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The Alteration

3.53  ·  Rating Details ·  721 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews
Hubert Anvil is a 10 year old boy blessed with the voice of an angel. The Church hierarchy decrees that Hubert should be turned into a castrato - an alteration that could bring Hubert fame and fortune, but would also cut him off from an adult world he is curious to discover. In a dystopian world where Martin Luther never reformed and where the Holy Office's power is absolu ...more
Paperback, 231 pages
Published July 1st 2004 by Vintage Classics (first published October 1976)
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Nicholas During
May 03, 2013 Nicholas During rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kingsley Amis does sci-fi well. If you're willing to call this sci-fi, which I'm sure many aren't. But whether you want to call it genre or not, Amis gets into the mood with this book and does what sci-fi, or speculative fiction, is meant: imagines a world very different from own. In this one the Reformation never happened. Luther became pope. England stayed Catholic. And the world is therefore a much more backward place. Science is a dirty word and the rituals and power of the Romish Church are ...more
Erik Graff
Aug 25, 2016 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: alternate history fans
Recommended to Erik by: Martin
Shelves: literature
This alternate history novel was given me as a birthday gift. Well chosen it was. It is cited by Philip K. Dick as "possibly the best" of the genre and introduced in this edition by William Gibson--both of whom appear, indirectly, within it. Dick, I'd imagine, liked its context, that being of a contemporary western world dominated by a reactionary and repressive Roman Catholic Church. Gibson praises it, exaggerating a bit, as representative of steampunk literature. I note it as being erudite, su ...more
Luke G
Sep 19, 2007 Luke G rated it really liked it
Before this I had only read a little of Lucky Jim, and Kingsley Amis seemed a little too macho and mean-spirited a writer for me. This book has that feel too, but it is still pretty good. This is an alternate history narrative, like Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. Events take place in a social-conservative's wet-dream version of England, circa 1970: almost every instance of technological or social progress starting with the renaissance has failed to happen. The Vatican still rules the we ...more
Oct 25, 2013 Fred rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Another quick review. This is a very fun novel, but one that took me three or four tries to get into. Once I did, I read the whole thing in about three days. The beginning is very dense - the central idea takes some time to manifest itself, and in the meantime the reader is left puzzling over what the hell is going on. A melange of highbrow culture is referenced and re-figured in the alternate world Amis has created, and it takes some time to work through it. At least one course in Art History o ...more
Sue Davis
Fantastic! Why no African slavery in the southern part of North America? Without the reformation, many fewer settlers, thus less need for labor? Note the names of the priests in the second to the last part of the book: Maserati (designed car for Mussolini), Satterthwaite (mathematician, theorem for determining statistical significance, inferences, and Berlinguer (leader of Italian communist party); in the other world of the novel, the three discussed with the pope various ways to solve populatio ...more
Jul 11, 2014 Nazim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: golden-age-sf
A young boy Hubert has got a very brilliant voice. His father, mother and brothers are very proud of him. Certainly they wish cloudless future for him. An Abbot in one of the churches in England heard him singing many times. His voice captivated him. He thought up a nice plan. And here who said that radical religious monks are complete illogical folks? So the Abbot proposed a deal to the Hubert’s family.

Hubert was to be altered to serve for “the will of God” as a singer in the Abbot’s church. Wh
Fascinating book. The Alteration is a treasure simply for the wonderful uniqueness of its premise: a 1970s dystopia controlled by a Catholic church that never experienced the Reformation and Protestantism. It's a singularly fascinating riff on Philip K. Dick's Man in the High Castle, and written with a quality that makes me wonder if it is a taunt more than an homage, a flamboyant gesture seemingly saying 'that's all you did with the idea?' I'm sure Amis intended it as a clever homage, directly ...more
Fábio Fernandes
Apr 25, 2014 Fábio Fernandes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
I can't believe I never heard of this book before. I always liked Kingsley Amis' novels, but apparently I hadn't read too many of them. Early this week I found it in a bookstore here in São Paulo and I was amazed by the synopsis - and by the William Gibson introduction (you can't go wrong with such a recommendation). So I bought it, naturally.

I read it in three days - and that's because I had work to do, alas. The Alteration is Alternate History of the best kind. Imagine PK Dick's The Man in the
Kingsley Amis's clever alternative fiction novel, "The Alteration" is equal parts disturbing and engaging. The world of the novel is one in which the reformation never took place and in which the church and the state remained closely intertwined and corrupt. Amis's deft and creative imagining of such a world is offset by his signature dark satire and the overall pessimistic tone out of which the characters of the novel are unable and indeed ultimately unwilling to escape. The story centers aroun ...more
Jul 12, 2013 Robert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most clever alternative history novels (or CW, as it's referred to in the book) that I've had the pleasure of reading. On one hand, you have the puzzle of figuring out exactly what happened to turn the world into a repressive, anti-science theocracy. On the other hand, you have a compelling account of a young boy's struggle to understand the importance of sex and love in the face of losing out on those experiences forever. In other words, Amis combines the grandiose sweep of history w ...more
Muath Aziz
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I originally rated this three stars when I finished it last night, because I did enjoy reading it and it went very quickly, but upon reflection am downgrading it to two stars because of the ending.

(view spoiler)
Aaron Mcquiston
"The Alteration" is an alternative universe where the Reformation never happened, and the Catholic church still had as much influence over the world as it had before. Even though Amis does not go too in depth with how this has changed the world, you get a good sense that there are things that never progressed due to the church. So it is 1977 and still the superstitions and dogmas are in place in a way that cause the church to still be the ultimate authority. Bring in Hubert Anvil, a ten year old ...more
David Schwan
Aug 27, 2013 David Schwan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I somewhat uneven novel. The authors descriptive abilities are impeccable. The plot was fine until the ending. It felt like this was written under a deadline and that the author had grander plans for the book. Late in the book we are introduced to a plot line that the Pope and his advisers are thinking about, that plot line was either filler or something that was to be bigger in scope. The split between Europe and North America was interesting with Europe Roman Catholic and North America Protest ...more
May 10, 2011 Chipgc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recently reread this clever, amusing, and rather frightening attack on the Roman Catholic church and found it as good as I first had over 30 years ago. The skill and thoroughness with which Amis imagines a world which had taken a different turning in the early 16th century is remarkable; the events of the novel are highly plausible given the initial premises; the characters are given surprising depth considering that the novel is short. There is some good evocation of scenery, and some remarka ...more
Feb 08, 2010 Lee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Entertaining and engaging, a tale questioning the perspective of morals. I very much enjoyed the idea of this book.

My first KA book and was pleasantly surprised by the 'mordern', for want of a better term, feel of the book. I've read a few of Martins books, which appear to be an echo of this style, with quality to match.

I will definitely be keeping my eye for other titles.
Feb 17, 2010 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting piece of fiction in which the setting is Europe in 1976, but...the reformation never happened. The story is fairly unpredictable and the word pictures are vivid. Worth reading.
Aug 14, 2012 Rory rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alternative history where Martin Luther never kicked off the Protestant Reformation, so a Christian England is forcing a young boy to get castrated to preserve his singing voice.
Artur Coelho
Dec 01, 2013 Artur Coelho rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
É intrigante como Kingsley Amis consegue criar um ambiente de história alternativa de uma forma insidiosamente subtil, quase sem recorrer ao clássico infodump. Quando a meio de uma conversa entre personagens solta uma linha do género o vice rei do Brasil proclamou um édito quem se recorda minimamente da história fica a saber que em 1960 o Brasil era uma colónia portuguesa. Mas há melhor. Casualmente lemos que his eye passed over St. Lemuel's Travels and The Wind in the Cloisters, slowed down at ...more
Nov 02, 2016 Phil rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good Speculative Fiction fun - and itself a comment on Speculative Fiction, in this case involving the counterfactual non-happening of the English Reformation. If I were a better Catholic I suppose I ought to take offence at the tyrannical, totalitarian and archaic behaviour of the Church represented in the novel, but if one cares to transpose the imagined excesses of political Christianity onto the real conduct of political Islam in the present day ("The Alteration" begins in 1976, the year of ...more
Jan 09, 2017 Martin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, easton
Really quite terrible. I don't know how this won any award or how it was included as a "Masterpiece of Science Fiction." Not particularly well structured, as the first 20 pages are dull as dirt. Nearing the resolution a layer of politics is added unconnected to the rest of the book's narrative, making it read as though the writer realized, "damn," need 10 more pages. It's a dismal fantasy, an ineffective anti-Catholic screed to be avoided.
Nov 29, 2016 Harvey rated it it was amazing
Master Amis's Time Romance (TR) is an absolute triumph. Indeed as a Counterfeit World (CW), I venture to suggest that The Alteration surpasses even Master Dick's The Man in the The High Castle and Master Roberts's Pavane, both of which are wittily referenced.

A host of amusing historical cameos appear and a totally unexpected ending. I can hardly remember the last time I read a book in three days. Outstanding.
Nick Swarbrick
Oct 22, 2016 Nick Swarbrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jeni Ishappierthanever wood
Meh. It is listed as scifi-, but the only thing slightly sf about it is that it is set in an alternate universe. More of a weird historical fiction piece. A bit predictable and the end was just boring.
David Flett
Entertaining side swipe at 'modern Britain.' Best summed up as Cobblers.
Pat Cummings
Jul 30, 2016 Pat Cummings rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Possibly the most disturbing in my recent trio of religious-tyranny-themed science-fiction novels, Amis' novel of an English choirboy faced with castration to preserve his soprano voice shows the expertise he developed writing earlier works like Lucky Jim, That Uncertain Feeling, The Anti-Death League, and The Green Man.

His alternate-history scenario has as its diversion-point the elevation of a certain German cleric to the See of Rome: Martin Luther became Pope Germanian I, and the Protestant R
Roddy Williams
‘The year is 1976 and we are living in a Europe-that-might-have-been. It is a Europe that never underwent the Reformation of the 16th century, peopled by – among others – Monsignor Jean-Paul Sartre, a Jesuit theologian and Heinrich Himmler, a papal envoy… and Hubert Anvil, a faultless boy soprano. When the clergy discovers the rarity of this sublime voice, they conspire to ‘alter’ him and preserve Hubert’s genius. The plot against this defenceless creature then swirls in a whirlpool of piety, te ...more
No, Mirabilis is no worse than most of us, and he has more wit than many. He sees that in our world a man does what he's told, goes where he's sent, answers what he's asked.

The Alteration by Kingsley Amis is an alternate history tale. It is 1976 but England and the world are very different from our 1976. There was no Reformation, Henry VIII was deposed and Martin Luther became Pope Germanius I. So the the Catholic church remained supreme and in 1976 holds much more power over Europe and the worl
The Alteration is an alternative history novel by Kingsley Amis which hinges on the premise that the Reformation failed, with Martin Luther becoming reconciled to the Catholic Church and indeed becoming Pope. The Western world remains under the influence of a repressive Catholic regime and scientific progress has been stymied. The story itself revolves around Hubert Anvil, a 10-year-old choir boy, who has the most wonderful singing voice heard in generations; a voice which must, by the reasoning ...more
Joel Zartman
Jun 02, 2015 Joel Zartman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When Kingsley Amis first published a novel, I understand, it was generally felt that here was a witty writer of comic novels in the wicked vein of Evelyn Waugh. I have to wonder if The Alteration is not, in a way, a response to the notion. Waugh in the end wrote to promote his Catholic religion; and The Alteration is not a document calculated to win friends in the Vatican.

The Alteration is set in an alternative history, England AD 1976. The Reformation has not taken place. Instead, Luther became
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NYRB Classics: The Alteration, by Kingsley Amis 1 11 Oct 18, 2013 01:01PM  
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Sir Kingsley William Amis, CBE, was an English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher. He wrote more than twenty novels, three collections of poetry, short stories, radio and television scripts, and books of social and literary criticism. He fathered the English novelist Martin Amis.

Kingsley Amis was born in Clapham, Wandsworth, Couty of London (now South London), England, the son of William Robert A
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“Lyall felt he could not say which of two things was harder to put up with, the Abbot's conversational style, with its bland coherence and assumption of severely limited cogitative powers in the hearer, or his recurrent look of pleased surprise as each fresh piece of evidence of his wisdom or moral worth turned up, but between them they were likely to implant in certain minds a hardy seed of revolt.” 0 likes
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